Bees: My First Hive Inspection

I open my new hive for the first time to see what my bees are up to.

I started my beekeeping hobby in June 2013 and have been blogging about it periodically. If you’re interested in reading the other posts in this series, follow the Adventures in Beekeeping tag. Keep in mind that the most recent posts always appear first on this blog.

I set up my first beehive and loaded bees into it on Tuesday, June 4. On Tuesday, June 11, I went back to inspect the hive.

Hive inspections are something beekeepers should be doing about once every 1-2 weeks during the productive summer months. The idea is to check the health of the colony, remove things that shouldn’t be in there, and get a general idea of what the bees are doing in their box(es).

Preparing for the Inspection

To prepare, I looked up a few checklists online. I wanted a guideline that would help keep me focused on what I needed to do so I could minimize the amount of time the hive needed to be open. I found two good ones:

  • Hive Inspection Sheet is a great one-page checklist to record information from an inspection. This is the sheet I wound up using, even though it includes many items that I didn’t need for this inspection.
  • Hive Inspection Checklist comes with 7 pages of information to help you understand what you’re doing and how to do it. Although I didn’t like the actual checklist format, I found the accompanying explanations extremely valuable.

I also made notes in a looseleaf book I’ve been using to keep track of things I need to remember. (Seriously: the memory loss that goes with aging and having a very busy life sucks big time.) I divided it into two parts:

Prep:

  • Hive body. I needed to put the second hive body in the Jeep so I wouldn’t forget to bring it.
  • Smoker setup. I wanted the smoker all set up with ignition paper and fuel so all I had to do was light it.
  • Food. Didn’t want to forget the sugar syrup I’d prepared.
  • Camera charged. I was bringing along my GoPro to document the inspection and I needed to make sure it was fully charged.

Tasks:

  • Light smoker. Seriously, I even need to remind myself to do something like this.
  • Open hive. Duh-uh.
  • Remove frames one by one and check:
    • Brood development. Are there larvae? Capped brood cells? The health of the colony depends on a constant inflow of new bees via hatching.
    • Eggs. Is the queen laying eggs?
    • Honey / Pollen. Are the bees making honey? Storing pollen? They should be!
    • Queen Cells / Drone Cells. These are brood cells for queens or drones. They are larger than regular brood cells. I didn’t expect (or want) to see queen cells — one queen is enough and the presence of queen cells indicates either an unhealthy queen or the possibility of swarming. Drone cells should be present, but not in great numbers.
    • How many frames are full? The bees should have filled out their original five nuc frames and begun work building out comb and filling it on the additional five frames I provided in their hive.
  • Add hive box on top. Only if they’d made good progress on the five new frames.
  • Close hive. Duh-uh.
  • Feed bees. I needed to refill their feeder with the sugar syrup.

My notes were the bold text. I didn’t need the explanations. (Those were for you, dear reader.) Not a huge amount to do or remember. Just right for this first time.

I also printed out the checklist. I’d fill it out when I was finished.

The Inspection

I had a great day on Tuesday. Very relaxing. I blogged about it here. By the time I got to Jim and Kriss’s house in Wenatchee, I was feeling good. Very mellow and relaxed. In no hurry. And I stayed that way. That’s really important when you’re working with at least 10,000 live bees.

Hive Inspection PhotoI arrived around 4 PM, when the temperature was around 70°F. A nice warm afternoon when many of the bees would be out foraging. I brought my gear into what I’ve come to think of as the “bee yard” and was happy to see bees coming and going through the hive entrance. I saw Jim and Kriss and Jim came in to keep me company. I lighted the smoker and suited up. Jim remained in plainclothes, but stood back as I got to work.

Rather than give you a blow-by blow of the inspection, I’ll let you watch the video. It’s 9 minutes long, edited down from 30 minutes of raw footage. It was shot with a GoPro camera on a tripod. (I’ll do this again in the future and talk more directly to the camera.) Throughout the video, you’ll hear Jim and me talking about what we’re seeing.

Here’s the video:

The long and the short of it is that I have a healthy hive with friendly bees. Did you notice how Jim gets closer and closer throughout the video until at one point, he sticks his bare finger right next to the hive? My bees didn’t mind. They’re mellow. Mellow yellow bees. Jim says his bees aren’t that nice.

We saw drones and I actually spotted the queen, which surprised me very much. Jim and I seemed to see her at the same time.

We did find one swarm cell — a queen cell near the bottom of the hive. They likely built this before the frames were put into the hive, thinking they were running out of space in the nuc (which they were). I removed it.

We didn’t see any eggs, but we did see plenty of developing larvae and capped brood cells. And tons of honey and pollen.

I got to scrape clean honey comb off the top of the inner box. I munched on it later in the car. Next time, I’ll bring a container just for my spoils. I’ll be leaving most of the honey for the bees this year — they’ll need the stores for the winter.

Next Inspection

My next inspection will be about 10 days after this one — sometime next week. I’ll do pretty much the same thing, but this time I have the challenge of working with two boxes full of frames.

I’ve been giving my frame setup a lot of thought. I’m thinking that I want to reconfigure the hive to have just one deep frame on the bottom and then mediums above it. I’ll still allot two hive bodies for brood, but I think that having medium bodies/frames above the hive will give me more flexibility for honey production while making the hives lighter overall. And I’ll still have the deep boxes on bottom for installing or creating nucs. Of course now that I’ve already put the deep box on top, I can’t really make any change until I get a second hive setup and either split the colony or use the occupied frames from the top box in a new hive. Neither is possible right now.

I’m also thinking of putting in a frame with beeswax foundation might be a nice way to harvest a single frame of honeycomb before winter. I think the bees can spare that for me — especially given the amount of sugar I’ve been feeding them.

More video — but shorter and more pointed — with the next inspection. As usual, your comments and feedback here is always welcome.

8 thoughts on “Bees: My First Hive Inspection

  1. Absolutely fascinating, Maria! This is fabulous to read and to watch the video. Great job on the video. So informative and interesting to watch. I would think someone interested in starting beekeeping would enjoy watching it as well.

    Thanks for sharing all this. :-)

    • Thanks, Shirley. There are actually quite a few beekeeping videos on YouTube. Some are better, some are worse. It mostly depends on the guy holding the camera, the sound quality, and the ability of the presenter to actually share something of value. Mine is about average, I think.

  2. I loved watching the video! How nice to have such a knowledgeable friend. And it’s great to feel like we are learning alongside you. Thanks for sharing! So exciting! I am rooting for you and your bees. :)

    • Thanks. I’d like to do more videos with the camera a bit closer. I’m buying a new GoPro today and can’t wait to start putting it through its paces. Hive inspections are high on my list. I’ll keep posting about the bees, too!

  3. Wow! We started at roughly the same time and you have already added a hive body…jealous, I am. I am having a great time comparing and contrasting where we both are at in this hobby.

What do you think?